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Gary Younge
Haitian president urged to quit to end violence

Leaders of the Democratic Platform, a coalition of political parties, clergy, students and business leaders, who met Caribbean community leaders in the Bahamas yesterday to seek a peaceful resolution, said they had a two-pronged plan to depose him.

The first element, said Evans Paul, an opposition politician, was "to show the international community and the Catholic church that Aristide has lost his popularity and should not be supported".

The second was to show that he "uses violence to repress our rights to free speech and assembly and that no compromise is possible with his regime".

The police fired tear gas and bullets into the air to break up a student protest on Monday. On Sunday a boy of 13 was killed during a protest against the government when shots were fired by men hiding in a state television station.

On Saturday Mr Aristide said the opposition rallies constituted an attempted coup, and he refused to step down.

The protests have become an almost daily event: 47 people have died and more than 100 have been injured since mid-September.

Mr Aristide has become isolated on the world stage since observers questioned the fairness of the parliamentary elections in 2000. He was elected by a landslide later that year, but has been in almost permanent conflict with the opposition, which demands new presidential and parliamentary polls.

Mr Aristide told Caribbean leaders last week that he would hold parliamentary elections in six months time. He made the same promise last year.

His opponents refuse to take part in elections unless he resigns.

The standoff has provoked an bloody spiral of popular protest and state repression in recent months, particularly since Monday when parliament disbanded, leaving Mr Aristide in effect to rule by decree.

On Monday students threw stones at private schools which had stayed open despite being asked to close in solidarity with the protests.

During the melee a tear gas canister landed in a Roman Catholic girls' school, causing the children to panic.

Over the past week the attacks have concentrated on the media .

On Thursday two pro-government broadcasters, Radio Pyramide and Radio America, were attacked. Three days later two stations with an anti-government bias were set alight.

The clashes have marred the bicentennial celebrations of Haiti's independence from French rule, when it became the world's first black-led republic.

It has been plagued by political violence and foreign intervention ever since: 21 of its leaders have been overthrown; only eight have survived a full term in office.

Haiti has the highest rate of HIV/Aids infection outside Africa, and life expectancy is 53 years. An estimated 80% of its people live below the poverty line.

Mr Aristide was its first democratically elected leader, but he was deposed in a coup in 1991, only to be restored by an American-led invasion in 1994.

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